Archive for the ‘portrait’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Photographing Couples   2 comments

A couple spends some time near the cathedral in Campeche on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.

I caught this couple spending time together near the cathedral in Campeche on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.

This is a topic I’ll admit I don’t have a ton of practice with.  One reason is my aversion to ever shooting weddings.  That said, I do love photographing couples, either in portrait or candid.  There is very little to it, actually.  All depends on how comfortable the couple is with each other (how long they’ve been together) and how comfortable they are with you, the photographer.  A few tips:

      • The Closer the Better.  For portraits, when you first get a couple in position to photograph, they will most likely be too far from each other.  You will invariably need to ask them to get closer.  Keep a light atmosphere, don’t make it seem like you want them to swap spit or make the shot look otherwise classless.  But get them touching.
      • Focus is Key.  Unlike with a single person, it’s more difficult to get focus right with couples.  You will likely need to use a smaller aperture, with larger depth of field, in order to get both people in focus.  This is a much bigger deal when you position one in front of the other, but watch it even when their faces are side by side.  Try to position yourself so both pairs of eyes are the same distance from you.  Then you have the option to open up your aperture more and go for less depth of field.  Every few shots call for a mini-break and check out the shots on your camera’s LCD, making sure (at minimum) both pairs of eyes are sharp.
      • Create a Relaxed Atmosphere.  Do what feels natural to you in order to get them comfortable.  Be yourself.  Music can work wonders, just make sure you’ve asked them what they like and play that.  Often all it takes is a little time, and a somewhat stiff poses disappear, replaced by natural and attractive ones.  Take that time.  And be ready to shoot away when poses and expressions turn natural.
      • Expressions.  The idea is to avoid the stiff, formal look.  Smiles are great but I’ve found they can look phony if you just ask them to smile (depends on the person).  Do things to get their expression to change.  Try telling jokes, or asking them questions that pique their interest or get them thinking.  In fact, if they are thinking about anything but the fact their picture is being taken, even if it’s only for a second or two, you increase your chances of getting more natural and attractive expressions.
      • Get it Right in Camera:  Move stray hairs, get rid of lint or smudges, and have them position their faces so as to minimize anything less than attractive.  For example, you may need to remind people to move their chins forward slightly to give faces a slimmer look and avoid double chins.
      • Mix it up.   Though I do very little “directing”, you can easily mix things up by changing their positions, asking one to look at the other, or asking them both to look at various places.  Before you start, get in mind whether you’re just going to use one place/background or several.  Also think about whether you want standing, sitting, lying or other positions.  Nothing wrong with keeping it simple and working variety into it in more subtle ways – such as with expressions.
      • Candids:  Although it’s not nice to be a paparazzi, you should consider sneak shots if the light and setting is right.  If you’re found out (which is more common than not), just smile and walk up to tell them it was just too tempting, that they are too attractive a couple, then show them the shot.  It’s usually a lot easier to explain than it is with individuals (though that isn’t hard either).
      • More on Candids:  Candids can work well with smaller apertures, where more of the scene is in focus.  Though the couple receives less attention than with portraits, don’t worry so much about their getting ‘lost’ in the shot.  The viewer will naturally lock on to any person in a picture.  Look for story-telling pictures with couples, think beyond cuddling or gazing into each other’s eyes, go for unusual settings.
      • Background Matters.  See the discussion below.  Just realize that whether you are shooting a candid or a portrait, the background can make or break the shot.
      • Lighting Matters.  I won’t go into artificial lighting (flash) here.  That’s worth a separate post.  See below for a discussion on natural lighting considerations.
An attractive Norwegian couple on holiday on beautiful Laguna Apoyo, Nicaragua.

An attractive Norwegian couple on holiday at beautiful Laguna Apoyo, Nicaragua.

BACKGROUNDS

If you’re using a natural background or inside in a room, the background will likely be too busy.  It will have too much detail.  If you shoot so both your subjects and the background are in focus, that detail will draw attention away from the lovely couple.  So your depth of field will need to be shallow; that is, you will use a large aperture (small f-number).  But don’t use such a large aperture that one of their faces are out of focus.

If you’re shooting portraits, you can always use an artificial (paper or fabric) background, in which case your aperture can be smaller.  Then you can shoot at an aperture that is sharpest for that lens (usually two stops above wide open).  Make sure to get the lighting right on the background, as well as the couple.

The guy on the left was sweet on this young woman from Ometepe, Nicaragua.  Though I should have had him tuck his shirt in completely, I think it's funny that he apparently hurried to do it before the picture.

The vaquero on the left was sweet on this young woman from Ometepe, Nicaragua. Though I should have had him tuck his shirt in completely, I think it’s funny that he apparently hurried to do it before the picture.

LIGHTING

With natural lighting, the more diffuse the better.  A cloudy day is great, as is indoors next to a window, so long as the sun is not shining directly into it.  If you have bright sunshine (and the sun is not setting or rising), go into the shade of a tree or building.  Often you can get great light on a bright day by moving to a place that is at the edge of shade but near a reflective surface (white pavement, water, etc.).

More ideas:  If you can, consider using a reflector to bounce natural light back into the shadowed side of their faces.  An assistant or stand is likely going to be necessary, as is a reflector that’s larger than one you might use with a single person.  Don’t let one person cast dark shadow on the face of the other.   Try shooting them right at the edge of shadow for a little drama.

I hope you got something out of this.  I wrote it partly to remind myself that I haven’t been shooting enough people of late.  But you are the main reason.  Let me know if you have any questions, or have any interest in one of the images.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  This is especially important since individuals’ privacy is at stake.  Have a great weekend!

A couple kisses at sundown at the top of Rocky Butte in Portland, Oregon.

A couple kisses at sundown on top of Rocky Butte in Portland, Oregon.  They didn’t know I shot this until immediately after, and were not bothered.

Wordless Wednesday: Big Smile   Leave a comment

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Wordless Wednesday: Bullrider   2 comments

I know you’re not supposed to say anything, but I’d like to note that this is my first post for Wordless Wednesday!  I like the concept.

Bullrider at a small rodeo in Oregon glancing back at the bull that just threw him.

Friday Foto Talk: Shoot what you Know & Love?   13 comments

The clear pools at Semuc Champey in the Guatemalan highlands invite a cooling swim.

The clear pools at Semuc Champey in the Guatemalan highlands invite a cooling swim.

Shoot what you love.  Shoot what you know.  Have you considered these little nuggets of advice lately?  Whether you are a professional, part-timer or serious amateur photographer, you spend enormous resources on your passion.  Of course you spend plenty of money on camera equipment, classes, etc.  But perhaps your biggest investment is time.  We only have so many breaths in this life, and to be engaged in things that are worthwhile and enriching is a common goal for all of us.

Shoot what you love

I assume most of you are like me in that you enjoy photography not only for the sake of it but also for what appears in your viewfinder.  Many of us love to capture beauty, in people as well as in nature.  But plenty of photographers love the intrigue and mystery of things, and try to capture them to cause the viewer to wonder and to question.  Others love to take pictures that tell stories.  Some photographers even like to capture the seamy side or even the downright ugly side of the world.

Squarely in my comfort zone: Mount Rinjani's summit on the island of Lombok is a spectacular place to watch the sunrise.

Squarely in my comfort zone: Mount Rinjani’s summit on the island of Lombok is a spectacular place to watch the sunrise.

I think it is worth remembering from time to time what you like to capture and why.  No matter how abstract your photography becomes, you are still putting yourself in front of real scenes in real life.  We all want to enjoy the time we spend doing this.  What do you love to shoot?  You know, because when you grab your camera and go out with no real goal in mind.  And then you find yourself in front of something or someone, capturing images in the best light you can find, that means you love to shoot that subject.

Documenting a climber's desires, and the spectacular peak of Taboche with prayer flags on the way to Everest Base Camp, Nepal.

Documenting a climber’s desires, and the spectacular peak of Taboche with prayer flags on the way to Everest Base Camp, Nepal.

But there might be times when you choose a subject for other reasons.  Perhaps it’s because of the likelihood of making money with the images, or because you know your friends or loved ones will enjoy seeing the pictures.  Perhaps it is simply because that is all that is available, and you feel a strong urge to photograph something.  I don’t particularly love still lifes, for example.  But when I feel that urge and the weather is unsuitable for shooting outside, then I might look for the bowl of fruit or the flowers.

I'm drawn to children and their open-book faces: young Sherpa boy in a remote area of the Himalaya of Nepal.

I’m drawn to children and their open-book faces: young Sherpa boy in a remote area of the Himalaya of Nepal.

Your decisions on what to shoot are your own of course, but your images will soon begin to impart something that most of us could do without: a label.  You become a landscape photographer, a portrait photographer, a macro or wildlife photographer.  You might even be labeled a lifestyle photographer or a wedding photographer.  There are no shortage of labels.  Some of them we apply to ourselves (perhaps in order to market a business) and some are applied by others.  (“Hey Jim, I’d like you to meet Michael, a very good landscape photographer”.  Does this make me feel good?  Would it feel better to be introduced as a very good person?)

Active volcanoes are one of those features of Earth that have always fascinated me, as if the planet itself is a living, breathing beast: Indonesia.

Active volcanoes are one of those features of Earth that have always fascinated me, as if the planet itself is a living, breathing beast: Indonesia.

Shoot what you know

I do indeed shoot a lot of landscapes and nature subjects.  But not just because I love it.  This is what I’m most familiar with, and have the most intimate knowledge of.  I also have a good knowledge of wildlife, but sadly my telephoto lens was stolen not long ago and I cannot now afford to replace it.  I’m an astronomy nerd as well.  So I have gotten into shooting starscapes.  In recent times this has become a very popular subject to photograph, so I’m not alone.

I'm a night person and an astro nerd.  The Milky Way emerges above the redrock country of southern Utah.

I’m a night person and an astro nerd. The Milky Way emerges above the redrock country of southern Utah.

But it’s funny when I speak to some photographers who do excellent night sky work.  With most I can’t have a lively back and forth with them on astronomy, about the actual objects in the sky, even about constellations and their stories.  All the subjects I shoot I already knew about and I tend to shy away from those subjects I am fairly ignorant of.  Perhaps this is why I don’t shoot many pictures of women!

I love being out in the wilds when others take shelter:  Blowing sand in the dunes at Death Valley made for difficult conditions but a unique image.

I love being out in the wilds when others take shelter: Blowing sand in the dunes at Death Valley made for difficult conditions but a unique image.

But I’ve found that for many photographers it is the opposite.  They begin to shoot something for other reasons (such as for business reasons as mentioned above) and then proceed to learn about the subject.  This seems a backwards approach to me.  But I’ve learned to appreciate those who actually make the attempt to learn something about what they’re shooting; some can’t be bothered at all.

I love the subtle beauty of nature:  A typical scene in the southern Utah desert features nothing more spectacular than lichen.

I love the subtle beauty of nature: A typical scene in the southern Utah desert features nothing more spectacular than lichen.

All of the above verge on being truisms.  But since I tend to reject labels and also really love to do photography of any kind, I think these matters bear considering in a balanced way.  What I mean is that while you should definitely shoot what you love and what you know best, it is also important to mix things up, to not be pigeonholed.  The sooner you consider yourself an artist, the better your images will be.  And good artists explore their art.  They don’t settle (immediately at least) on one type of art and do it to the exclusion of all else.

Night photography has become a favorite of mine:  The Gallatin River flows from Yellowstone north into a beautiful valley in Montana.

Night photography has become a favorite of mine: The Gallatin River flows from Yellowstone north into a beautiful valley in Montana.

In other words, you must break out of your comfort zone from time to time.  That is an overused expression but also a truism.  For one thing, if you love taking pictures, putting yourself in front of any subject will likely leave you feeling like the time was well spent.  Sure you will experience some frustration trying to photograph in a manner with which you are unfamiliar.  Sure your images will probably not be up to your usual standard.

I am not a frequent photographer of people, but I do love opening up to them when I'm traveling: Two vaqueros from the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe.

I am not a frequent photographer of people, but I do love opening up to them when I’m traveling: Two vaqueros from the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe.

But you’ll learn something new and I bet you’ll end up having fun.  There’s another reason to do this.  You could very well discover that you love something that you never thought you would.  I did not know I loved shooting candid street portraits until I began to travel to other countries with my camera.  Now this is one of the things I most look forward to when I travel, and I load up on knowledge of the cultures I visit partly for this purpose.  I’m not sure why I don’t do it at home, but this weekend I will be attending a workshop on available-light portraits.  Heck, I don’t even do workshops, so this is a bold departure for me on two counts.

Misty Cross

I love mood and mystery, perhaps because I rarely find it: a cross stands improbably on the summit of a tropical mountain on the island of Flores.

But while you’re cross-training, or “breaking out of your comfort zone” (if you prefer), remember your core photography.  In other words, just because you don’t like being labeled, don’t ever devalue – even a little bit – those things you love to photograph.  Why is this so important?  I believe it has little to do with photography itself.  You started photographing those subjects because you felt good being in their company.  It does not make any sense to over-think this.

I love wildlife, especially when you can catch them when they seem to be unaware of your presence: a long-tailed macaque appears to admire the sunrise at Mt. Rinjani, Indonesia.

I love capturing images of wildlife, especially when when they seem to be unaware of your presence.  A long-tailed macaque appears to admire the sunrise at Mt. Rinjani, Indonesia.

For example, I have since I was small loved being out in nature.  I loved looking out across wide expanses of land, feeling a brisk wind blow in my face, or the soft crunch of leaves on my belly as I lay on the autumn earth.  I loved spying on a creature going about its daily business, or finding a small sculpture of ice hidden in the snow-covered world of winter.  I loved touching my nose to the flowers or grass and pretending I was an insect seeing the amazing world that lay hidden at my feet.  I did not decide what to shoot when I first picked up a camera.  It had already been decided long before.

Now I”m an adult and I can never fully reclaim the wonder I had as a child.  I know too much, and that gift of knowledge was never meant to be free of charge.  You know how it goes: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away”.

I love to capture nature in what I call semi-abstracted form.  That is, you can still recognize what you are looking at.  This is an agave plant in Baja California, Mexico.

I love to capture nature in what I call semi-abstracted form. That is, you can still recognize what you are looking at. This is an agave plant in Baja California, Mexico.

You undoubtedly have similar experiences in your background.  But what about now?  You now have both the freedom of choice and the ability to capture most anything with your camera.  And so there is nothing keeping you from getting out there to explore new subjects; nothing to keep you caged within the four walls of your labels, whether they’re self imposed or placed by others.  By all means shoot what you love and know, but for as long as you and I breathe the world will be a big place.  It will be a place that constantly presents new things to see and experience.  Of course you can photograph these new things as well.  What are you waiting for?

Thanks for looking.  If you’re interested in any of the images just click to access the pricing for high-resolution versions.  These are low-res. and are copyrighted, not available for free download, sorry.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.  Thanks for your interest.

In the Gros Ventre Mountains east of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, an earthquake in the 1950s created a beautiful lake.

In the Gros Ventre Mountains east of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, an earthquake in the 1950s created a beautiful lake with a dam-producing landslide.

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